Kyrie Irving at the Lakers? This is why LA kept their draft picks and here’s what a trade to the Nets could look like
That’s why the Los Angeles Lakers kept their future draft picks while 38-year-old LeBron James continued to play for a sub-0.500 team.
When the Lakers decided not to include their two remaining tradeable first-round picks in a potential deal involving Pacers role players Myles Turner and Buddy Hield earlier in the season, or concede one of their first-round picks turn in a smaller deal during the season, it was because they were optimistic that a superstar worthy of their inclusion would become available before the February 9 trade deadline.
That opportunity presented itself on Friday afternoon when Brooklyn Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving asked for a trade, according to Athleticismby Shams Charania.
The Lakers have an interest in acquiring Irving, according to several league sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Part of a potential deal would be Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-round picks – with the Lakers pushing to add lottery protection to at least one of them – in exchange for Irving and another Nets actor (likely Joe Harris), according to those sources. Depending on how the Nets like the Lakers’ picks and what happens with Kevin Durant following this news, the Lakers could redirect one of their picks to a third team, who would then send additional players to Brooklyn for help the Nets stay competitive. .
The situation remains fluid. The cost to get a team to face Westbrook and his $47.1 million salary has been a minimum first-round pick since last summer. But given Irving’s pedigree and play on the court this season, the Lakers should almost certainly include both first-round picks. Protecting one of those picks could lead the Nets to ask the Lakers to maybe include Austin Reaves or Max Christie, two of the Lakers’ promising young players. But the Lakers aren’t interested in including either in a potential package, the sources say.
The Lakers aren’t the only team expected to pursue Irving. As Charania reported, the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are also interested. Both teams could theoretically offer better winning packages now, depending on which players they want to include.
Kyrie Irving’s Trade Demand Raises Questions Mavericks Can’t Easily Answer
The Lakers have a finite number of assets they can trade. They can’t distribute first-round picks until 2027 due to earlier trades for Davis and Westbrook. They could technically include a 2028 pick swap, essentially making them three first-round picks, if they choose. That might not be enough to cap another trade package from another team, though Irving could potentially lead the market by suggesting he’ll only extend or re-sign in certain markets, like Los Angeles.
If the Lakers can’t find a third team, they may have to take back more pay in addition to trading Westbrook and the picks for Irving. Only four Nets players earn between $8 and $20 million this year: Joe Harris ($18.7 million), Royce O’Neale ($9.5 million), Nic Claxton ($8.5 million) and Seth Curry ($8.5 million). The Lakers have an interest in each of those, but Harris is the one the Nets will most likely want to trade given his contract (he’s under contract for $19.9 million for the 2023-24 season) and his injury history.
This is similar to the framework of an Irving trade that the two teams discussed over the summer after Durant called for his departure. But the Nets and Durant were able to work things out after his public request, which ultimately led to the Nets keeping Irving as well. It’s possible that Irving will also rescind his request or that the Nets will make a deal with him, if only to appease Durant, at the very least. The Nets could also call Irving’s bluff and keep him until the end of the season, challenging him to sit out games and/or lose more money.
The Lakers could potentially wait to sign Irving as a free agent this summer. But their trade with Rui Hachimura, a pending restricted free agent they also hope to re-sign, signaled that they aren’t necessarily interested in operating as a team with significant cap space this offseason. Acquiring Irving now means getting his Bird rights, which would allow them to extend or re-sign him regardless of their cap situation. At this time, it’s unclear whether the Lakers would be willing to offer the four-year extension Irving requested.
James appeared to co-sign the Lakers trade for Irving with a cryptic tweet.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 3, 2023
James wanted the Lakers to acquire Irving over the summer because Athleticism reported at the time. He has since made it clear throughout the season that he would like some extra help, including in a recent conversation with Athleticism Sam Amick.
It should also be noted that Magic Johnson also tweeted his approval for Irving’s trade. The Lakers legend remains close to Jeanie Buss and still advises the organization on personnel moves despite his abrupt resignation as the franchise’s president of basketball operations in 2019.
Personally, I would love to see Kyrie in purple and gold.
—Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) February 3, 2023
While Westbrook has played better this season, the Lakers’ use of $47 million on a bench player isn’t ideal. There are always concerns about Westbrook’s viability in playoff-type settings and when closing out games, especially as the roster’s dearth of perimeter shots compound his weaknesses. The Lakers have been open to keeping Westbrook if a viable alternative does not present itself.
The possibility of acquiring Irving clearly meets the criteria of a viable alternative. Irving is a much better player and is on the Lakers roster. He can play with and without the ball, already knows how to play with James from their time in Cleveland and has shown in Brooklyn that he defers to superstars like Durant and (briefly) James Harden. As they do with Westbrook, the Lakers could also stagger James and Irving’s minutes, to some extent, with Irving leading some bench units alongside Davis.
Remember: The reason the Lakers traded Danny Green for Dennis Schröder in 2020 – and acquired Westbrook in 2021 in the first place – was because they wanted to put an elite ball-handler next to James who could lighten his offensive workload. Neither move was successful, although Schröder was solid in his second round with the Lakers. But Irving is the caliber of player who would tick all those boxes.
Irving’s peripheral shot would provide the biggest offensive boost. Teams have to defend him at the 3-point line — and, frankly, anywhere beyond 12 feet, which is the area they start ignoring Westbrook. The gap between the two is large. Irving is an All-Star starter. Flipping Westbrook and his future picks for him is a no-brainer from a basketball perspective.
Irving certainly comes with obvious concerns. He was suspended in November by the Nets for a minimum of five games without pay after posting a link to a documentary promoting anti-Semitic views on his social media accounts, then repeatedly refused to apologize for have done it. (He ended up missing eight games.) There are some Laker fans who will never accept Irving because of what he did. Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish population in the country behind New York, so the Lakers would risk turning off some of their fan base by trading for him. Nike notably severed ties with Irving when he was one of the NBA’s most popular athletes.
(For what it’s worth, the Lakers recently worked on Meyers Leonard, who is trying to make an NBA comeback after he made an anti-Semitic remark during a 2021 Twitch stream.)
There’s also Irving’s troubling track record of wanting to quit every team he played for: Cleveland, Boston and now Brooklyn twice. He has a sense of drama. When he leaves a situation, it is often chaos.
Still, adding Irving gives the Lakers a legitimate Big Three of James, Davis and Irving. According to one’s opinion of Irving, the Lakers could arguably have three of the top 15 players on their roster. Irving is 30 years old. He can enter the next era of Lakers basketball with Davis, forming an All-NBA star duo for the next few years. Plus, Harris is more than just a throw-in. He’s the type of defense-savvy shooter the Lakers desperately need; he and Irving would immediately become the Lakers’ top two shooters.
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said any trade involving the picks should make the Lakers the “front runners” in the title race. It’s unclear if the Irving acquisition puts the Lakers in that stratosphere — especially since they’re 12th in the West and not even in the Play-In Tournament currently — but it’s unlikely. nearly as close as the Lakers will get this winter and certainly gives them a chance in any Western Conference series.
James-Davis-Irving would be the best line in the league, and while the Lakers’ supporting cast obviously has some limitations and glaring holes, a group of Harris, Hachimura, Reaves, Schröder, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Lonnie Walker IV and Patrick Beverley are strong enough for the Lakers to put together a useful rotation. (Beverley and Walker IV could also be included in an Irving package or separate deal to further improve rotation, league sources say Athleticism.)
It took several months, but talks between Irving and the Lakers resumed. Los Angeles has less than a week to determine how much they’re willing to give up for Irving, and if it’s enough. To some extent, the situation is beyond their control, as Brooklyn may ultimately decide to keep Irving and alter the fate of the Lakers.
But that’s the exact reason the Lakers have been waiting to make a splash in the trade market. Their patience could be rewarded with the third superstar they’ve been coveting for a long time.
(Top photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)